CMS employees will have to prove COVID vaccination or face weekly testing

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees will soon be asked to provide documentation of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Starting Sept. 20, CMS employees will be required to provide proof of vaccination or face mandatory weekly COVID testing.

CMS students will also be able to opt in for diagnostic testing at schools, beginning Oct. 11.

In a letter sent to employees, CMS said, “To promote healthy schools and a healthy community, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is partnering with a vendor contracted by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (Ginkgo Bioworks) to provide regular COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated staff and access to testing for students. The testing program will begin during the next several weeks and will be rolled out in a phased approach, beginning with unvaccinated elementary school staff. This testing aligns with recommendations from Mecklenburg County Public Health, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.”

The CMS Board of Education met Tuesday night to talk more about COVID-19 precautions currently in place as well as future plans.

The board acted to maintain and strengthen health protections for students and staff during the continuing COVID pandemic, approving universal face coverings in schools and granting the superintendent additional authority to close schools for COVID-related reasons.

“Keeping schools safe for in-person learning remains our top priority -- and COVID isn’t over,” said Elyse Dashew, board chair. “As much as we all yearn for a return to ‘normal,’ the metrics measuring this pandemic continue to be a source of concern. In order to protect students and staff, we must maintain universal masking, and we must give Superintendent Earnest Winston the flexibility to pivot quickly if COVID hits a school or part of a school.”

CMS will continue to require face coverings for all students, staff, volunteers and visitors inside CMS buildings and buses. Exceptions may be granted if an individual meets the criteria set for in the Centers for Disease Control guidelines or the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, including the Strong Schools NC toolkit. The Board of Education is required to review and vote on the face-coverings policy at least once a month.

The law also permits districts to close part or all of a school in the event of a COVID-related staffing shortage or quarantines, and shift to temporary remote instruction. The extended authority will continue for the remainder of the current school year.

“We want our students in classrooms for in-person instruction but we also want to keep them safe and healthy while they are there,” said Winston. “Face coverings continue to be an important front-line action we can take for student and staff safety -- and we need the ability to react quickly when a school or part of a school appears to be unhealthy. Tonight’s actions will benefit our students and staff.”

“Mask optional is not safe,” said another parent, Staci Staggs. “Failure to contact trace and failure to quarantine exposed individuals is not safe.”

A few CMS teachers spoke out against the new policy, questioning why the school board didn’t vote on it and why vaccinated staff members aren’t subject to same tough testing protocols.

“I urge everyone to stand up and fight back,” said teacher Kaitline Reid. “CMS has no right to force any individual to do anything against the best interest of their medical health.”

[Former Union Co. teacher opens up about district’s controversial COVID protocols]

On Tuesday night, Lincoln County joined Union County in loosening COVID-19 protocols and ditching most quarantine situations. Masks will be optional effective Sept. 29 in Lincoln County.

Students are expected to be in school unless they test positive for COVID-19, symptomatic or have been given a quarantine order by the health department.

Lincoln County Schools’ policy is similar to the one in Union County.

The only people who have to stay home are those who tested positive or have symptoms.

(Watch reporter Joe Bruno’s report in the video below)

What this means for CMS staff

Beginning the week of Sept. 20, CMS employees will be asked to provide documentation of vaccination status. Documentation requests and submissions will be made using the Qualtrics platform CMS has used for such information gathering as health attestations and symptom screening during the prior year.

The phased testing approach will begin with elementary school staff the week of Sept. 27. Mandatory testing will be weekly for staff members who do not demonstrate proof of full vaccination. The type of test is the PCR test. Testing will be “pooled,” meaning samples from several sources are mixed and then a diagnostic test performed on the mixed sample. If a positive result is returned from a pooled sample, rapid tests will be deployed to pool participants to identify positive among the pools.

CMS plans on launching staff testing at half of elementary schools, as well as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Academy and Metro School, the week of Sept. 27. The week of Oct. 4 the program will expand to the other half of CMS elementary schools.

Middle schools and K-8 schools will begin staff testing the week of Oct. 11, and high school staff testing will begin the week of Oct. 25.

Employees at Transportation sites will be included in testing after all school sites are incorporated or as soon as possible during the phase-in of schools.

For Principals and Department Heads

  • Principals and department heads will be asked to assign one contact person for each school and department site.
  • School contacts and/or principals will be onboarded via 90-minute webinar.
  • The school or department contact will serve as point person to assist with organizing the testing logistics and vaccination attestation components.
  • Six regional support coordinators, one per learning community, will provide support for school personnel.
  • In partnership with Mecklenburg County Public Health, schools soon will have, at minimum, one unlicensed assistant personnel (UAP) to assist with contract tracing and test administration; MCPH will coordinate hiring and staffing UAPs.

Student Diagnostic Testing

Families will have the chance to opt-in students for diagnostic testing. This testing will help identify positive cases among symptomatic students and can help reduce quarantine time for those identified as close contacts.

Opt-in forms will be made available in the next few weeks, with a mid-October anticipated launch date for the student diagnostic testing. Students must have a signed opt-in form on file in order to participate in diagnostic testing.

School or department contacts are responsible for collecting and maintaining up-to-date student opt-in forms. More information will be shared with families regarding the opt-in procedure during the next several weeks.

Testing Model:

Pooled testing of unvaccinated staff on a weekly basis

  • Reflex (rapid) testing to identify positives among pools
  • Staffing support through vendor

Diagnostic testing for students who are symptomatic or to reduce quarantine time

  • CMS is responsible for facilitating using vendor’s reporting system
  • Students self-swab – staff ship out samples to lab

(WATCH BELOW: CMS shares plans on COVID-19 testing for staff and students)